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Themes of Experience

Nearly every child whose parents split up experiences fear. Many children worry that their parents will abandon them. After all, if marriages can be dissolved, why not parent-child relationships? Fears like these can lessen a child’s trust in their parents and in human relationships in general, which is why must take care to put our children’s needs before our own during this difficult time.

Another common theme in a child’s divorce experience is sadness and yearning. Sometimes the sadness is so deep that children experience sleeplessness, inability to concentrate, disinterest in play, deep sighing, compulsive overeating, and various aches and pains. They yearn for the absent parent. A five-year-old who’s father has moved out will say, “I need a daddy. I don’t have a daddy.”  It doesn’t seem to matter at all how good a relationship the child had with the absent father. The child misses him and wants him back because his presence is important; what he represents in the child’s own mind and imagination is important. And the kid wants him back because that would heal the pain of their sense of loss and rejection. Substitutions, no matter how well intended, will not fill the great emptiness they feel.

Divorce is also a time of worry for children. They often — boys and girls alike — fret about their absent parent and the details of his or her life. But they also worry about the parent who didn’t move out — both in terms of that parent’s permanence for them and their needs, and in terms of their compassion for that parent’s own suffering. Kids also worry about money, about changing schools, about moving, and about their parent’s new friends.

Very often, children take the departure of a parent personally. He or she is rejecting them. In addition, some children, will identify with their departed parent so that they personally feel any criticism leveled at that parent by the other parent as if it had been meant for them.

Loneliness is another common theme. Children feel that both of their parents are slipping away from them — which is not unreasonable, since the remaining parent might be either off at work or hiding in the bedroom in a pit of depression. Adolescents are sometimes able to escape this torment if they are especially well adjusted so that they have an already-devleoped capacity to rely on their friends. But the reliance of teenagers on their equally immature friends can also lead to difficulties at home, at school, or even with the law.

Divorce can be confusing, frustrating, frightening and stressful for everyone involved. Click here to revisit our Checklist for Divorcing Parents, so you can help your kids get through this tough time.